Daniel Barenboim

Barenboim Live at La Scala: Liszt

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This disc marks a historic occasion of sorts,: the first live recording of an instrumental recital at the famed La Scala opera house in Milan. Pianist Daniel Barenboim rose to the occasion with an unusual and exciting program of Liszt's music that was appropriate without being overly obvious. What he does is focus on several levels of the idea of Italy in Liszt's career, reserving Liszt's mighty paraphrases of Verdian opera for a slam-bam finale. Along the way he makes stops at Liszt's Tre Sonetti di Petrarca, which also have roots in operatic melody but have the Lisztian personality daubed all over them; the meditative St. François d'Assise: La Prédication aux oiseaux, which represents Liszt's idea of Italy as a reservoir of spirituality; and the massive Dante Sonata, in which Barenboim achieves a sustained level of high inspiration. All these pieces were programmatic to some degree, and the booklet notes by Tim Parry (in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian) give a feel for the references an audience of Liszt's time would have picked up, without burdening the reader with too much detail. There are probably pianists who bring more sheer power or sighs to each of these works individually, but few other than Barenboim could have delivered the mixture of entertainment and reflection heard here. The performance is, simply, a great deal of fun from start to finish, and one guesses it would have been enjoyed equally 150 years ago. The engineering from Italy's RAI radio is very good, achieving maximum clarity and immediacy in a vast space not designed for music of this kind.

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